Sunday, December 14, 2008

Listening Post

I have no idea why I've been feeling so retro lately -- must be the whole final-year-of-my-30s thing having its way with me. I promise to get back to posting more recent music soon, but this morning there's something I just really need to put out there:

Bill Joel is a god.

He's been hugely successful for almost 40 years -- yet in spite of that, he's often overlooked whenever the conclave of the musical intelligentsia in this country issues its official declaration of what constitutes a serious artistic achievement. The fact is that Bill Joel has written so many good songs and done it for so long that, ironically, it's easy to forget just how talented the man is.

Case in point: Back in my late teens, a friend of mine dragged me -- and I really do mean dragged me -- to see Joel live in Miami. He had an extra ticket and pretty much demanded that I go with him since he'd otherwise be forced to suffer the shame of sitting alone at a concert. At the time, I was into punk and alternative and the idea of seeing Billy Joel, who had admittedly recorded a couple of albums I'd once played so often that I wore them out, just seemed so uncool. But about a half-hour into the show, I had the kind of powerful awakening that can only come from suddenly realizing that you're listening to the music of your life -- that you'd foolishly forgotten how much you love every single song you're hearing.

That's the way it works when you're talking about Billy Joel. In addition to that, there's simply no arguing that Joel is the songwriter laureate of the place I call home: New York City.

I could spend hours running down this guy's greatest hits, but here now are just a few of my favorites.

First up, from Glass Houses, it's All for Leyna.

Next, from 52nd Street, my favorite Billy Joel song with the exception of Laura -- Zanzibar.

And finally, a song that always turns up on my main iPod playlist right around Christmas: From the Today show, here's a live performance of She's Right On Time.


Felis Femina said...

Thank you for this post. I grew up listening to my mom's cassette tapes of The Stranger and 52nd Street. I get ridiculed on a regular basis (often by Alex) for admitting that I like Billy Joel. I recently found a 1978 live performance of The Stranger in England on TV and Alex had to admit that Joel is pretty damn good.

C.L.J. said...

I still have all his vinyl - I even have 2 of his albums with his early group, The Hassles.

Excellent choice in the videos; not as well known as his biggest hits, but they've got meat.

Hmm, it's time for a little "Miami;2017"

Anonymous said...

Might the retro kick also relate to having had a child? In my observations having a kid often leads people to think about what their own youth, what they love in life, and the things they want to share with the kid when s/he is old enough to appreciate them (E.G. What music that moved you when you were young that you want to expose tu hija to.)

Steve said...

Thanks for Zanzibar. I love that one, along with most of BJ's not-so-well-known tunes.

Matt Mangels said...

So funny that you posted this...just yesterday I decided to listen to The Nylon Curtain. Billy Joel is definitely a gifted melodist, and you can clearly hear the Russian Classical influence, composers like Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. I think "River of Dreams" is my favorite.

Deacon Blue said...

Sometime late in my high school years, my dad bought me a compact stereo system with a CD player. At the time, CDs were still a relative novelty compared to cassettes, and since I wasn't really all that big into popular music at the time, we more or less randomly grabbed "Piano Man" as my first CD of my life to test out the new system.

I played the hell out of that CD.

Now, thanks to you, Chez, I am reminded of yet another CD (and other stuff by said artist) that was lost during a robbery of our apartment some 8 or 9 years ago in Chicago...and that means I'll have to go hunting for several of my favorite Joel songs on iTunes or something to help rebuild my notalgia collection.

You bastard. Glorious bastard, but damn you all the same.

Captainfirst said...

Agree totally about Billy Joel's music, and while we're at it, any chance we can get a little love for Chicago? Most of their post-1984 music is average at best, but damn, listen to all the hits of those first fifteen years!

Dianne said...

My sister introduced me to Billy Joel's music right around the time of The Stranger, and I was in high school when Glass Houses was released. I played that and 52nd St absolutely to death. I personally loved Rosalinda's Eyes, but You May Be Right pretty much describes the beginnings of my relationship with my husband. :-)

DragonIV said...

Rush, Billy Joel....the only thing missing now is Fleetwood Mac.

Anonymous said...

"He's been hugely successful for almost 40 years -- yet in spite of that, he's often overlooked..."

Poor choice of words Chez.

Chez said...

Well, now I know what it's like to have something you say taken out of context -- and done so really, really badly.

Read the few words after your quote then get back to me.

Anonymous said...

Just messing with you Chez. I thought is was funny.

My weird sense of humor getting the better of me and all that.

Pea said...

Ah, memories of my childhood: Billy Joel, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens and Abba provided the auditory backdrop for the first twelve years of my life.

Downeaster Alexa and She's Always a Woman are my two favourite Billy Joel songs.

Chez said...

Both of those are spectacular songs.

Laser Rocket Arm said...

When I was a kid "The Stranger" was the only rock 8-track (gah!) my father would agree to play in the car stereo so I know that album up, down and sideways. If I had to pick my absolute favorite Billy Joel song, though, it would have to be "Goodnight Saigon." Got me the first time I heard it, still gets me every time.

I saw him in Philly a couple of years ago--the highlight of the show was his strapping on a guitar and rocking out while one of his roadies did a note-perfect version of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." I'd sell body parts to get a video or mp3 of that.

Rob in Calgary said...

Glass Houses was the first album I ever owned. Man, did I wear it out listening to "Sometimes A Fantasy" and "All For Leyna".

Haven't listened to Billy in years - thanks for bringing back the memories.

I would also recommend you find his cover of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". It's a great live version that adds a bit more weight to the song.

Graphix468 said...

Billy Joel was the best freaking concert I've ever seen, even if it wasn't back in his heyday. The company I work at hired him for a huge corporate event and I was right by the stage (left). When I showed up I liked Billy Joel—when I left I LOVED him.